ARTISTIC DIRECTOR NOTE: HEAVENS TO MURGATROYD Sep 2, 2016
“Should anyone even care about making art in the Anthropocene?” An artist friend posed this question to me over messy Cuban sandwiches on a sunny day in July at the beach. I hadn’t even heard of this term – a possible new epoch defined by humankind, agriculture and/or the Industrial Revolution. Imagine geologists in the future studying stratigraphic layers of plastic and semi-automatic weapons.
A lot of really bad things happened in the days, weeks and months leading up to those sandwiches, and a lot of really bad things have happened since. Around this time the love of my life told me Alvin Toffler, the author of Future Shock, had died. From the NY Times article she sent me: In Mr. Toffler’s coinage, future shock wasn’t simply a metaphor for our difficulties in dealing withnew things. It was a real psychological malady, the “dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.” And “unless intelligent steps are taken to combat it,” he warned, “millions of human beings will find themselves increasingly disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal rationally with their environments.”
Should anyone even care about making art when horrific things are happening? It brings to mind that scene from Titantic when the string quartet continues to play on as the boat lists and people fight for life rafts.
A critic friend said we’re in the middle of a new culture war. Because the right and left are so beyond having a civil dialogue, there’s a new fracturing happening on the left between socially and aesthetically focused practices. I told her one can argue that contemporary art is born out of privilege. Probably fifty percent of it, at least. You can make up a bunch of crazy abstract shit when you don’t need to worry about your rights or paying rent. At the same time that doesn’t account for all of the artists who want to say something different or subtle or extreme because they need to. At all costs.
A friend I grew up with recently posted that we need to wage a war on hopelessness. A bass player friend posted that we need to be there for one another.
I get by with a little help from my friends
I get high with a little help from my friends
Gonna try with a little help from my friends
When I was in high school – I think around 17 or 18 – my friend David and I were in a Perkins Restaurant & Bakery in Kansas City, Kansas one night. (The internet says there are 30 Perkins between Kansas and Missouri but Washington only has two. The closest one to Seattle appears to be in Ellensburg though I’ve never been there to confirm if that’s actually true.) This is what the alternative was for sensitive, dreamy types to getting shit faced on High Life and Seagrams. Go to Perkins, order a Granny’s Country Omelet and have a deep conversation.
Our brilliant idea this particular night was something we called The Foundation. I think the gist of it was something like, we’d do good things with other people – we’d help each other – and in the process we'd create an infrastructure built around caring for one another. The goal as I recall was to amass capital, social and otherwise, that would be the basis for the future work of…The Foundation. David reminded me recently that we even drew up articles of incorporation and they’re in a box in his basement.
While I realize years later that this impulse is simplistic in its assumptions about people needing help or what help they may need, I still think there was something important about our breakfast-at-night meditation and our desire to connect and the fact the impulse was catalyzed through my close bond with David.
Weirdly, running a nonprofit can sometimes feel antithetical to building a community. You end up by yourself a lot eating phở with good intentions. And because you’re always working to raise support and never have enough of it, a small group ends up making decisions on behalf of many. And while this is arguably more efficient and what I have been taught that leaders are supposed to do, it doesn’t provide enough room for all of the people that could be contributing.
Besides, the name "On the Boards" doesn't help. It sounds like a code word for entering a speakeasy. Say it to a relative or someone on a plane and you'll get blank stares. Follow that up with your Polish name plus "center for contemporary performance" plus "producing and presenting innovative theater, dance and multidisciplinary work" and you'll hear crickets.
There is still great opportunity in our name and our work, though. As “on the boards” is an idiom for describing who is performing in a theater, the name has the potential to take on new meaning as we experiment with ways to broaden and diversify the contemporary arts canon and expand the role new performance pieces can play in our growing city and our field. What if our name became synonymous with broadening what is considered contemporary and who gets to participate in defining our field?
Thirty years later, I think The Foundation should be an Institute.
OtB turns 40 in a few years and we will create more space.
With more curatorial voices to expand our programming.
With an OntheBoards.tv education curriculum to reach more people.
With more in-depth writing to connect people to the art being made.
With more interdisciplinary projects to feature a range of creative pursuits.
OtB 1978 – 98:
The first twenty years
Founded by artists from Seattle
The organization was built.
OtB 1998 – 2016:
Almost twenty years later
We've grown a community in our current home
OtB this season:
We're going to keep playing
In a rapidly changing Seattle
In a really challenging world
We're going to keep playing
By following the artists
As we produce 9 new projects in Seattle
By following the ideas
As we burn jet fuel for 5 special presentations
By following our hearts
As we support more expressions of what contemporary is
By following our dreams
As we build for the next twenty years
with our board, staff and community.
Let's keep playing.
[exit stage right]
Lane Czaplinski, OtB Artistic Director